Review: Burial Rites, Hannah Kent

I love the month of May!

Every so often a traditionally published book earns its’ own review on my blog.  Either I am in a reading slump, which has not happened yet this year, knock on wood, or I read a book that is just so breathtaking I don’t want to lump it in with other reviews.  And I am sure that a shorter post sometimes does a reader good.

I just loved Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. It is about the last execution in Iceland in 1829.  Agnes Magnusdottir is accused of murdering her ex lover along with his current lover and a man who wants his money.  She boards at a local farmer’s house before the execution and changes everyone in the process.  I did not know that this was a true story until the epilogue.  Some things had to be fictionalized but the indisputable facts of the case were true.  What was not factual was the depiction of the murderess as a cold blooded witch, which Kent targets as a possible new angle on the character of the historical figure.

And she does it beautifully.  By reconstructing Agnes’ past she paints a woman who has been marginalized and abused in a time where paupers and women’s situations were precarious.  She suggests a new interpretation of the recorded historical fact which is likely closer to the truth of how Agnes arrived at her own execution.

Kent’s nineteenth century Iceland is deeply atmospheric and absorbing.  Her nouns and verbs are sharp and she writes the details of that life: how people of many social classes lived, the brutality of the barely relenting winter, the sadness and desperation that escaped very few. This book is exactly why I love historical fiction: I was transported.  I hung on every apt description and exposed plot layer.  It is a murder mystery of sorts, but that is not the main focus.  The human stories are.

I would love to write a project like this:  tackling a real historical event and then fictionalizing some pieces to create a new angle, a depth of characterization. Fleshing out the names in the historical registers into real people with real emotions and passions. I love the research and the spinning of a new tale both.

As far as the Reading Challenge, it fits into A Book That Takes Place on an Island, or Historical Fiction Set Before 1900. And maybe others.   Kinda don’t care. I should not have waited this long to become wrapped up in it.  Also, great on audio.

Comments/questions/shares! Have at it.  Please.

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